US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel discussed the political transition in Egypt and the upcoming constitutional referendum with Defense Minister Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, in a phone call on Thursday morning.
A readout of the call was provided by Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby. During the call Hagel conveyed the US’s commitment to “US-Egypt strategic relationship” and added that the US wishes to “continue working with Egypt to support a stable inclusive political transition.”
The US Defence Secretary however expressed his concerns regarding the recent charges brought against former president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
On Wednesday, Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat ordered the referral of Morsi and several prominent Brotherhood figures to criminal court for charges of “espionage.” A statement from Barakat’s office on the decision was titled, “the largest case of espionage in the history of Egypt.”
Hagel was also concerned at “recent violence” against an NGO, in reference to the police raid of the office of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights during the late hours of Wednesday.
Hagel said “that civil society organizations play a vital role in any democracy” adding that “incidences such as these can undermine confidence in the interim government’s commitment to a non-violent, inclusive and sustainable democratic transition.”
The defense secretary indicated that the US was looking forward to the constitutional referendum, which is scheduled to take place, from 14 and 15 January. “They discussed the importance of a transparent process, in which freedom of expression is guaranteed for all citizens during the campaign period, regardless of whether they support or oppose the constitution,” the readout said.
On his recent visit to the Gulf, Hagel told Al-Sisi that he encouraged regional partners to play a constructive role in Egypt’s transition as well as to continue “playing a role in improving Egypt’s economy.”
While in Bahrain earlier this month, Hagel had met with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy on the sidelines of the Ninth International Institute for Strategic Studies Manama Dialogue. The two discussed regional and international issues related to Middle East security.